How to Better Support Students in Their Journey From High School to College

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We are Washington state’s future. We’re the next set of business executives, health care professionals, computer scientists, educators and innovators. We have clear goals for ourselves — but getting there is not easy, and too many of our classmates aren’t making it.

Postsecondary enrollment in Washington dropped virtually across the board during the pandemic — down 23 percent at Washington’s community and technical colleges from fall 2019 to fall 2021, and 7.5 percent on average at public four-year colleges and universities.

Neither of us originally planned to attend the two-year college in our backyards. But plans change, and opportunities present themselves.

In Chehalis and Seattle, where we respectively graduated high school and are currently pursuing our associate degrees, we were fortunate to participate in new efforts to support students in the transition from high school to college.

At W.F. West High School in Chehalis, the Student Achievement Initiative built time for college and career planning into the school day. We talked about what college would be like and made plans for what we would do after graduation. One assignment required us to apply to Centralia College. Even if we didn’t plan to attend, the experience showed what the college application process felt like, gave us more confidence to think about our options, and kept open the door to college if we decided to go.

At W.F. West, the high school advisor connects each student to a retention specialist at Centralia College whose entire job is to support W.F. West students. Even today, the retention specialist meets with some of us to plan our weeks, which helps us stay on track and get assignments done on time.

Students in Seattle Public Schools have a similar experience through the Seattle Promise program. Many teachers set aside class time for students to complete a Seattle College admissions application and a Seattle Promise scholarship program application. There’s no cost or extra burden beyond the class or workshop time spent thinking about our futures, which is time well spent. Seattle high school students also receive assistance applying for financial aid, learn about different academic and career pathways, and get regular support from counselors and outreach specialists through the program.

We are both pleased with our experiences at Centralia and Seattle Central, respectively. The classes are small and the path forward is clear. We are on track to earn degrees that can launch us into careers or additional training and credentials at a four-year college or university. Our retention specialists continue to support us with class registration and time management, ensuring the courses we take will lead us to the degrees we’re seeking.

However, we should not be exceptional in the support we receive to pursue our education and career goals. Yet, we are. Far too many Washington students aren’t getting the kind of support in high school and as they transition into college that we need.

At the same time, more and more jobs opening in our state require a credential after high school, such as a degree, apprenticeship or certificate. We both know that getting a degree will enable us to land well-paying, satisfying jobs in our career fields.

Our state has a lot of work to do to build the bridge between high school and the education that comes next. State lawmakers have an opportunity to break down barriers and build up opportunity.

The 2022 Legislature should prioritize the Washington Career and College Pathways Innovation program to create more community partnerships, like the Student Achievement Initiative and Seattle Promise, which are successfully launching students into post-high school education.

The support we received in high school helped us believe that we could thrive in college. We hope students across Washington can have similar opportunities.

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Josiah Johnson is a second-year student at Centralia College studying business management. Jocelyn Daniels is a second-year Seattle Promise student at Seattle Central College studying nursing.